I was fond of dimes for quite a while. I think I liked the magic three on the tails. It could have been it was the smallest of the coins in my pocket. It may have been the words from my father.
I don’t know when the fondness of dimes fell away to nickels, but I have enjoyed them for years. Lucy Van Pelt of Peanuts fame charged a nickel for a psychiatric appointment. When finished, I’ll have one for now and one for later. And still there is that thing my dad said about ten cents.
While helping me fix my house, my niece said, “When you have the time, you don’t have the nickels. When you have the nickels, you don’t have the time.” She could have said any coin or dollar or the generic word, money. She chose nickel. And still there is that thing my dad about ten cents.
It’s no secret that I was in a horrific abusive relationship. It’s no secret that I have this mental illness that feels like a list of disorders when I quantify the ineptness of my brain and body. And if you know me - really know me - you know that I have terrible financial wellness. I still have that thing my dad had about ten cents though.
It’s all money. There’s a heavy sigh while I sip from my cup of coffee and consider if I really am ready to discuss money and mental illness. Invariably there will be discussion of abuse and money in my words. I’m not sure I can separate for me the abuses I experienced from my mental illness. I have no clue still if my mental illness caused the abuse or if the abuse caused the mental illness, or even still if they are separate but related. I guess I will Venn Diagram this shit later.
Money. My childhood. It turns out we were not crazy poor, but neither wealthy by any means. We were middle class. Probably the middle of the middle class. We- I mean my parents. However, my mother would say things to make me believe we were poor. Like on the low end of lower class. The groceries we had in the house were the store brand and we never ordered pizza from the parlor down the street. She would remind us all the time that we didn’t have money for everything we wanted and sometimes things we needed. Looking back, we had too much on holidays. She took us to five different fast food restaurants for lunch so everyone got what they wanted and she didn’t have to cook. I could go on about the things I remember that doesn’t fall into the lie, “We can’t afford that.”
Money. My adult life. I always worked and always had a paycheck that was coming. I remember specific times when my pockets were flush and other times that my pockets didn’t have a dime, two nickels, or any coin to equal ten cents. I was broke and there was no getting home.
So here is the analysis. How can I have grown up with financial insecurity pressed upon my wants and needs and then not protect my pockets from emotional abuse? Maybe before this analysis, I should share what has been churning in my head and life before I ruminate on all that.
Yesterday I paid my cell phone bill. It was my payday. My phone had been turned off for four days for non-payment. I wasn’t worried. My electric bill got paid eight days ago when I received a notice threatening disconnection if the bill wasn’t paid within ten days. I’ve talked to four car dealerships so that I can have a little more flexibility in commuting and running errands. I can’t figure out how to pay the down payment and quite honestly although I know with my wages, I can afford the monthly payments, but if I don’t have the discipline to pay the light bill on time, how can I keep current on vehicle payments?
And then reflecting on those shortfalls, I scoop up the coins in the bottom of my purse and drop it into the country rose vase that was given to me by my life partner’s mother. It’s been half full for three years. I realize that my wallet has enough dollars to give my adult children adequate spending and vacation money even if I’m pulling out nickels to pay for a chicken sandwich a day before my payday.
Big friggin’ deal… right? It is.
My doctor asked me one day what I spent my money on. It’s not uncommon to go on a spending spree with mania. It’s not uncommon to spend on things one does not need and cannot afford. This is not just buying a diamond ring in the middle of February because it’s pretty, but it extends to spending habits so subtle that one may not even see it’s part of the madness. So whatever I needed or whatever I discussed, my doctor asked the question, “Why can’t you do this?”
Me: I don’t have the money.
Him: What did you do with your money?
Me: What money?
Him: You work and earn money. What did you do with your money since you got paid?
My brow furrowed. As my dad used to say, I got my back up and I was insulted at his accusation that I was not wise with my choices over those two weeks. My heart whispered to my brain, that’s not his business. And then I justified whose pockets I moved my coins to, “I paid for groceries and my train pass to get into work.”
He pursed his lips and his silence drew out the truth. Today I cannot remember what I spent my money on, but I remember that was the day I became more mindful of my spending. I have not changed my habits again, but I do watch my hand as I open my wallet now.
I lived with a drug addict for close to twenty years. I supported a drug habit for close to twenty years. I also lived with an abuser for twenty years as an adult and before, all of my life. If anyone has heard me talk about it, they may think I believe I am a victim. I’m just trying to open about it. I am a sum of my parts and this is a part of me.
One may think the financial abuse was a part of the drug use. He took every penny from the house to buy his fix. But then why were there days when I walked seven miles in and home from work while he had bus fare to go to the other side of the neighborhood? Why was I shopping at the dollar store and giving my kids hot dogs, when he was out buying dinner for his friends? Why was I hiding video games I bought for my kids so he didn’t pawn them when he bought another game console on a whim? So yes; on the surface, using money for drugs must be the reason the finances were up and down with her. But it goes deeper. He took money and lied to me. Had me at a bank crying because my debit card had been cloned. His bike was stolen, he said because I didn’t lock it up. My bike was stolen because I left it in the backyard and someone must have hopped over two fences and then taken it. The television was stolen because I left the front door open. All of those things needed to be replaced. He controlled how much money we had even though it was in my name.
So it sounds like I’m blaming. It sounds like I’m blaming my mother and my life partner for habits. At this point in my life, it’s not a habit. I understand it’s part of my brain. There are weeks when I don’t buy groceries and I don’t eat at home. There are weeks I spend hundreds of dollars in cleaning supplies. I spend money until I don’t have it. And other days I get through four and twenty hours without a penny leaving my fingers.
My money this past pay period, for anyone asking, I had this tattoo put on my arm. I bought groceries and dog food. I bought cleaning products. I filled my Wawa card, my Dunkin’ card, and my Starbucks. I bought two books I haven’t started reading yet and tickets for a show. I gave two of my four children money for vacation and groceries. And the most boring of my expenditures, I bought a couple pair of pants.
My vase is still half full of change. I wanna say that again. My vase is still half full of change. I totally say the words half full now. I’m not sure it was a conscience change from half empty. But I know that now I say half full. My vase is half full of change. I’m changing, even if I am only half-way there. My vase is half full of change. I’ll take half instead of none.
I am probably not poor even though I never have any money.
I don’t know why it’s so uncomfortable to talk about money. To admit the state of one’s financial health. Coming from someone who just started (relatively speaking) about the state of their mental health is pretty ballsy. I too find discomfort with it. I heard a friend say, money is only important if there is not enough of it. At the time, I thought that was true. It was at the waning end of the abuse mentioned above. But now without anyone to blame about the emptiness of my wallet, I am beginning to understand that money is important even when there is enough. Money is the means by which we live. We trade money for needs as well as wants. In a case where the mind is not with all it’s wits, I’m considering that money is behaviorally tells of mental instability. This is not to say it’s just empty pockets. When I was ghost writing, I wrote tens of thousands of words which translated into nickels while manic. Full pockets could be a result of working more in mania or spending less because the only thing we feed is our exhaustion in a depression. It’s not necessarily one way or the other.
A friend once said, “If I have a bed, you have a floor.” And recently I have said to a few, “I would rather you not struggle if I have it in my pocket.” In this acceptance of the importance of money, there is a corresponding irrelevance for it to hold onto it. I’ve known people who have more than me and who hold their nickels so tight, Jefferson is gasping for air. I knew someone who said the most generous are those who don’t have it to give. I don’t think it’s true to say with absolution that the wealthy are less generous, but I believe that there must be some introspection with one’s financial wellness to decide what relationship they have with their wallet.
So what is this all about? I suppose, I put this nickel on my body to remind me of all that, in all the chaotic twists and turns it has been shaping the person I am. Maybe my vase is only half full, but it’s not empty anymore.